One of New Zealand’s keenest anglers, Auckland’s George Chen has fished many of New Zealand’s hotspots with jig rod in hand. Always up for a challenge, George and several mates planned a long-range mission to Tanzania, the reputed home of monster dogtooth tuna…
I arrived back in Auckland after more than 24 hours of flight time from Tanzania, East Africa, and the first thing that came to mind was to share the fishing trip I’d just had.
On November 9, I took a 17hr 10min flight from Auckland to Dubai to meet my friends who were also keen to challenge Tanzania’s dogtooth tuna population. Another five-hour flight later, and we were at the shore city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
At 5am the next morning, we gathered our fishing tackle and departed the hotel. A small dinghy took all our gear to Boomerang, our fishing boat for the week. We were greeted by skippers Jason and Mady who have been fishing in Tanzania for over 15 years. Jason holds a couple of impressive world records for dogtooth tuna – 102kg dogtooth on 80lb line and 84kg dogtooth on 30lb line. Finally we were on our way to our fishing destination: Latham Island, an uninhabited hotspot located 45 nautical miles east of Dar es Salaam, and home to many reefs and drop-offs which hold trophy-size dogtooth tuna. The all-tackle world record dogtooth tuna (107.6kg) was caught at Latham Island in 2015 on Boomerang. I understandably had high expectations for the next few days.
When we arrived at Latham Island, we immediately saw some insane action. Yellowfin tuna were splashing and jumping up to two metres out of the water. We cast stickbaits to see if luck was on our side and the answer was positive. I instantly hooked up to my first ever yellowfin tuna. It smashed my lure about 30 metres from the boat, and a screaming reel and nice bend in my rod was the result. I soon experienced yellowfin tuna’s stamina firsthand; when they get close to the boat, they circle around, making it hard to lift their heads and make more line, but after a 10-minute fight, I landed a good looking 25kg fish.
This is the day I lost a big dogtooth tuna. As soon I hooked it, line poured off the reel at rocket-speed. There was nothing I could do except hold the rod at a good angle to maintain the tension. I could feel the tremendous power of the dogtooth, and when it decided to head to the reef at the beginning of the battle, there was little I could do. I could actually feel the leader going into the reef, which meant the dogtooth had won this bout. The leader was cut, and I was defeated. This failure was like a knife in my heart, and I had to live with the disappointment for the rest of the day.
The next day, it was my friend’s turn to lose a dogtooth. He had a fish on but the leader was quickly cut somehow, probably by another dogtooth. The bite then became quiet until the afternoon of day four. One of my mates hooked up to an estimated 40kg dogfish, but this calculation was based on the fish head we got back after a massive tiger shark (300kg) taxed it. I felt bad for my mate and at this stage, the confidence of the team was at an all-time low.
The next dogtooth bite had to wait until the sunset of day five. All of us were trying the different styles of jigging when something unexpected happened. A half-metre long rainbow runner took the jig (a fish that looks very similar to our kingfish but is comparably smaller and has a blue line pattern). A fraction of a second after the rainbow runner was hooked, something humongous swallowed it and charged to the deep part of the drop-offs. The hooked-up rod was designed for slow pitch jigging and rated PE 1-3, the mainline was a light 30lb and the trace only 60lb fluorocarbon. The reel was too tiny to put pressure on a fish that could handle 20kg drag with ease. Everyone’s thought was that this was a big shark. With a joint effort from everybody on the boat, the fish finally come to the surface after a three hour and five minute fight. It wasn’t a big shark but rather, the target species – a massive dogtooth tuna. Jason and Mady guessed the fish was around 105kg. The atmosphere was hotter than ever on the boat. Everyone was yelling and celebrating the victory as a team. The mission of landing a monster dogtooth tuna was done and dusted, and everyone had a photo with this surprising catch.
Some of my mates were satisfied with the catch from yesterday, and took the mothership back to Dar Es Salaam, but my mate Max and I decided to stay and fish one more day at this magic place. We had no regrets – the jigging produced the goods. I landed a 40kg giant trevally, which was the third GT I caught on a jig this trip – the previous two were black GT that weighed 6kg and 20kg respectively. The 40kg GT had a very strong initial burst which took a solid amount of line, but GTs don’t have the endurance of a similar size tuna or kingfish. The GT gave up relatively quickly and let me reel it in slowly. I can’t express how happy I was to hold a decent GT, but I made sure I was careful – this is a must to ensure successful catch and release. The deck hose was put in the GT’s mouth to supply oxygen, and a needle was inserted to release the gas inside its bladder to ensure it would be able to swim. After proper surgery, my PB GT swam back to his home safely.
Estimated at 20kg, this GT nailed a knife jig.
Despite the success of day five as a team, I still felt I needed the personal achievement of challenging the mighty dogtooth tuna to make my Tanzania trip a memorable one. I had a strong urge to rewrite my failure of losing a dogtooth on day two. I believed I could win the second round with my opponent, and I got my chance late on day six. A big strike, a nice bend in the rod and I knew the game was on. I used light drag and hoped the fish did not attempt to charge to the bottom. This time, the momentum was on my side and the fish decided to swim straight to the horizon rather than ‘reef’ me. Regardless, I was still doing everything cautiously, winding like crazy to avoid slack line as the fish on the other end changed direction every 10 to 15 seconds. Jason said it could be a nice doggy as they often change direction when hooked.
While I was happy to be battling with my target fish, I was also nervous. There are many factors that can prevent the successful landing of a fish, such as sharks or gear failure.
I cranked as hard as I could to gain as much line as possible, and my winding speed was faster than the big guy on the end of the line. Slowly but surely, I led the fish to the side of the boat. There were a few times the fish tried to cut me off at the propeller and the bottom of the boat, but with an experienced skipper and my skills, the fish was unable to do so. Finally, a big white belly floated up to the surface – a large dogtooth tuna! With many years of experience weighing dogtooth, Jason believed it was about 80kg. This is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life – it was my first-ever solo dogtooth tuna. The total fighting time was just under 10 minutes, a nice and quick fight that gave no time for the tax man to intervene. Tick – Tanzania monster dogtooth tuna trip was a success!
The writer is dragged to the rail by what turned out to be his dogtooth tuna catch of a lifetime.
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